Working with a Landscape Architect
When I first began thinking about putting an addition on the front of my house, I recognized it as an opportunity to rethink the landscaping of that part of my property. The front is currently a combination of scrubby grass, weeds and moss that slopes down from the front of the house and includes a couple of large, unprepossessing, and poorly placed shrubs (a forsythia and a mock orange). Except for the circular flower bed at the turn into the driveway, my attempts to create plantings in the front have been largely unsuccessful. After years of focusing my energies on the back garden, it was time to make some serious changes here.
Redesigning the front landscape presented two major challenges: First, it made sense to terrace the slope to create more useable outdoor spaces, but doing this (both conceptually and physically) was beyond my capabilities. Second, the house sits at an odd angle to the road and driveway, and the addition was going to make these odd angles much more apparent. I decided it was time to call in a professional landscape architect.
I quickly learned that landscape architects usually work on grander projects with bigger budgets than this addition to my 900 sq. ft. house entails. When the landscape architect that my architect recommended outlined his usual process and fees, it became clear that these would use up about half of my landscape budget, leaving much too little to actually do the work. Happily, the architect smoothed the way and the landscape architect proposed a more streamlined and less detailed process with a much smaller price tag. I explained that I didn’t need a professional to choose plants for me. What I was looking for was a kind of master plan that would show retaining walls, the contours of the land, and the location and shape of hardscape and planting areas.
The process that followed was fascinating. Peter Burke, the landscape architect, came out to the house and examined the property, making sketches and measurements. He also got a copy of the architect’s computerized rendition of the addition, which he could then add to. Very quickly, he presented me with a set of drawings that divided the front of my property into three levels, with a small patio at the middle level. The three-level solution to terracing the slope hadn’t occurred to me; but once I saw it, it seemed obvious (especially because it kept the retaining walls to a manageable size).
Peter’s first set of drawings also included a large circular lawn on the bottom level. And, while I could see how this design dealt with what he called the “funky angles,” it just didn’t speak to me. It was more lawn than I wanted, and it did away with the 8’ diameter circular flower bed at the turn into the driveway (a successful planting which I wanted to keep). This is where I discovered something about myself: I found it very difficult to critique Peter’s work; I didn’t want to be a “difficult client.” He was very reassuring about this, explaining that the design process is always iterative, involving back and forth between the designer and the client.
Unfortunately, my landscape design budget wouldn’t stretch to cover an alternative planting design for this lower level. Instead, Peter focused his efforts on what I needed most from a professional, the design for contouring, retaining walls and hardscape. At first, I was disappointed not to have a design for shapes of lawn and planting areas; but then I realized that I can handle this. I have Peter’s initial design for this area, which I can copy and modify. Since I plan to create the new front garden beginning at the top level and working my way down, I will have a couple of years to think about the lower level and work on design possibilities before I actually get there. It will be a fun challenge.